For all of the speculation leading into Monday night’s season opener about how Wilson would be received in his first game against his old team, it was his former backup who got the loudest ovation.
And stole the show.
As boos reigned down relentlessly on Wilson, the Lumen Field crowd celebrated every big play by Smith with chants of “GENO, GENO!” And there were just enough of them — including a pair of first-half touchdown passes — to lift Seattle to a 17-16 win.
It will take years to determine whether the Seahawks made the right move by trading Wilson in March for a massive draft haul instead of trying to make things work with the best quarterback in franchise history. One game, as thrilling as it was, doesn’t validate that move. But it does provide some immediate satisfaction for the Seahawks — and some hope for their fans that maybe this season won’t be the slog that everyone has assumed it will be.
QB breakdown: Making his first Week 1 start since 2014, Smith didn’t look like a longtime backup who’s expected to be little more than a game manager. He looked like an NFL starter. Smith completed his first 13 passes and was 17-of-18 with a pair of touchdowns during a near-perfect first half. He was accurate and avoided the big mistake that plagued him in pivotal moments when he filled in for Wilson last season. He made plays with his legs, too, stepping up in the pocket to escape pressure and avoiding killer sacks in the process. Smith finished 23-of-28 for 195 yards and two touchdown passes.
Buying the breakout performance by Seattle’s tight ends: A popular belief inside team headquarters this offseason was that tight ends would be a bigger part of the Seahawks’ offense this season — because whichever quarterback replaced Wilson would be more inclined to throw their way than he was. That looked like a prescient thought Monday night, with Will Dissly, Noah Fant and Colby Parkinson catching a combined eight passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Their combined nine targets were six less than Seattle’s receivers got. Seattle acquired Fant in the Wilson trade and re-signed Dissly for three years and $24 million after he tested free agency. The cost to sign him went up when another team went after him hard. That team? The Broncos.
Pivotal play: On consecutive third-quarter possessions, the Broncos drove to Seattle’s 1-yard line and seemed poised to score the go-ahead touchdown. Both times, the Seahawks’ defense held them out of the end zone by forcing a fumble at the goal line. Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu stripped Broncos running back Javonte Williams on the second one, part of his sterling Seattle debut that also included a sack, a pass defensed and seven tackles. The Seahawks signed Nwosu to aid them with their increased emphasis this season on 3-4 looks up front. The two-year, $19.055M deal he signed in March made him the highest-paid free-agent addition in terms of APY under GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. The Seahawks held Denver to six points on four trips to the red zone. — Brady Henderson
Underrated statistic to know: Geno Smith is the third quarterback since 1990 to complete each of his first 13 passes in a Week 1 game — along with Gardner Minshew ( 2019 Jaguars) and Jim Kelly (1990 Bills).
Next game: at 49ers (4:05 p.m. ET, Sept. 18)
After an offseason filled with the hopes and dreams that came with quarterback Russell Wilson’s arrival in Denver, it was the Broncos’ defense that had some opening-night jitters.
Under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, the Broncos tried to be aggressive in the pass rush, trying to keep the ball away from Seahawks wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but it wasn’t until outside linebacker Randy Gregory ripped the ball out of Metcalf’s hands deep into the third quarter that the Broncos’ defense could settle in.
As a result, Wilson’s 340 yards passing and one touchdown were almost a nondescript footnote in a 17-16 Seattle win that ended with a missed Brandon McManus field goal attempt from 64 yards.
It won’t be a carefree stroll through the evaluations for Denver’s defense. Seahawks tight ends caught six passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns before halftime, and Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith completed his first 13 passes of the game as part of a 17-of-18, two-touchdown performance in the opening half.
Pivotal play: The Broncos were in a slugfest from the start and never led. Their night ended when McManus missed a 64-yard field goal attempt with 14 seconds left to play. On a third-and-14 with 1:11 left, Wilson hit Javonte Williams with a 9-yard pass, setting up a fourth-and-5 from the Seattle 46. Instead of going for the first down with three timeouts remaining immediately after the third-down pass, the Broncos ran the clock down to 20 seconds, called a timeout, then missed the field goal.
Troubling trend: Week 1 overreactions are as old as the NFL, but given the Broncos reside in a division in which the other three teams have quarterbacks who have been named to the Pro Bowl, Smith’s wheeling and dealing to 17-of-18 passing in the opening half can’t be ignored.
And while the Broncos did harass Smith some and hit him several times, he moved the ball out quickly, created time in the pocket with quality footwork and was more than willing to take the safest completion available. One game does not a trend make, but the Broncos’ rushers are going to have to get to the quarterback more often, and they cannot allow any quarterback to get in a 13-of-13 rhythm to open a game.
Biggest hole in game plan: Some of it was certainly the Seahawks’ defensive game plan to keep things funneled to where the help was, but the Broncos’ wide receivers were targeted just twice in the opening half when the Seahawks took control of the tempo of the game.
Wilson did not put the ball in harm’s way, and that was a good thing, but as much as coach Nathaniel Hackett has hoped to be aggressive on offense, the Broncos were not the aggressor, especially early in the game. And when the Seahawks got the pace of the game where they wanted it, it became a struggle for the Broncos.
Denver’s wide receivers didn’t really get involved until late in the third and into the fourth quarters.
Troubling trend II: Double-digit penalties for over 100 yards? Critics will point to Hackett’s go-easy approach in the preseason games, in which virtually all of the starters didn’t play at all.
The penalties came on both sides of the ball and were ill-timed — especially a false start with under 7 minutes to play and the Broncos inside the Seahawks’ 5-yard line — and were too often momentum-busters. — Jeff Legwold
Underrated statistic to know: The Broncos are the first team since the 1987 Chiefs to lose two fumbles from the opponent’s 1-yard line in the same game, per Elias Sports Bureau. The last instance happened in a game utilizing replacement players.
Next game: vs. Texans (4:25 p.m. ET, Sept. 18)